Crucible Hands-On Preview — Amazon Enters the Hero Shooter Warzone
Crucible, Relentless Studios' first title, releases tomorrow and I got a hands-on look at the game a bit early.
A new competitor joins free-to-play competitive shooter landscape this week with Relentless Studio’s Crucible. Last week, I got the chance to try out the game with members of the development team and other members of the media. Walking away from the event, I was left with cautious optimism for the new hero-shooter, but with a feeling that Crucible is going to have a steep climb ahead of it to make it.
Crucible is the latest F2P hero shooter where teams composed of unique “Hunters,” each with special abilities and weapons, compete against one another in three different game types at launch. Relentless opted out of the “holy trinity” character roles that many games have, so don’t expect to see characters broken up into damage dealers, healers, and tanks. However, hunters will have skills that make them more conducive to those sorts of playstyles.
Each hunter has unique abilities and attacks that make each feel impressively different from the others. Before each match, players will pick from a handful of different possible skills that can be unlocked as they level up, lending to different builds that people can try for. Your character and skill tree are locked in before the game begins and before you know of who you will be facing off against since you aren’t able to swap characters during matches. This can make it tough to plan for the best build for your team, unless you are playing with friends.
During the demo, I became especially fond of the melee-focused Drakoul, who could yank foes him with a hook and bash them with his massive ax, while using the boosters on his back to dash away when things got too hairy. It was a new playstyle to have featured in a third-person shooter, though I admit, there were some foes I had especially tricky times dealing with.
Crucible’s gameplay feels very much like a melding of a MOBA and the reliance of having players increase their level to unlock new abilities by farming random mobs on the map while also combining a hero shooter’s more fast-paced gameplay. Wild inhabitants and fauna, native to the planet Crucible, are found around the arena lending themselves as natural sources of Essence, Crucible’s form of experience points. Hunting these monsters down reminded me of a lot of jungling in the MOBAs of my past. Accumulating Essence is an integral part of the game, as making sure your hunter is adequately leveled up, with as many of their skills unlocked as you can, will be a big part of whether or not you will live through a battle.
Players will be able to do battle in three modes at launch. Before you ready up for a match, you will pick you a hunter and how your skill tree will develop. Once the matches begin, you will be presented with a map of Crucible, where you choose the point you will be dropping at. Some modes have you selecting your drop point, and others you have a drop-leader that will pick a spot for your entire team.
The first mode is Heart of the Hive that pits two teams of four in a struggle to capture the hearts of giant hives that spawn throughout the map. The first to capture three hearts then wins. Some of my favorite moments from the event were the tense battles between the teams over the hearts, feeling far more like a tense match during a MOBA than in any of the other hero shooters. Each death of a teammate or enemy would put that team down a hunter for nearly 30 seconds, meaning you had to plan out when to use your skills to use them to maximum effect.
The second mode is Harvester Command, where two teams of eight fight over control of five harvester points that are on the map, which slowly tick up each team’s counter. Whoever fills the bar first, with kills and holding harvesters, will win the match. It’s a fairly straightforward affair, and the one I think I had the least fun with. The map was just a bit too big, and the respawn times were a bit too long for this style of gameplay mode. I felt like more of my time was spent trying to get somewhere or find people to fight, than I did actually in combat. It wasn’t bad, and I still had a good time with it, it just didn’t do as much for me.
The last is called Alpha Hunters and this mode has the most unique gameplay mechanic of Crucible that I don’t recall seeing anywhere else. This mode is a small scale battle royal, pitting eight teams of two against one another. When a player is killed, they are out; there are no respawns and no way to call back in your partner. Relentless came up with a genius idea to help out the leftover teammates after their partner dies. When a player who has lost their partner finds another player in a similar situation, they can request a temporary alliance with them, creating a brand new team of two. When there are only three players left, any of these alliances are dissolved, and it becomes a free-for-all. These alliances can also be broken at any time or denied altogether. This new approach brings an all-new take that I would love to see expanded on going forward—perhaps including it in a future free-for-all game type where you could partner with anyone if you so chose. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.
Speaking with Relentless, it became clear that one of the central focuses they had while developing Crucible was to create a competitive title that would make for a pleasant viewing experience on Twitch. A particular example of this that the developers drew attention to was how projectiles are handled. Each bullet and projectile has been given an appearance to make it appear visible during gameplay, letting viewers and players get a better idea of where they are being fired at.
The pacing of the game modes themselves, from how the gameplay flows to the number of characters each mode includes, has been designed around this Twitch-viewer experience mentality. Crucible always weighs this balance between fun for the player and fun for the audience. With such a focus, I asked the team if Crucible would be launching within Twitch integration. They explained that they have some fresh ideas for these but that they would be coming after launch. Nothing is yet set in stone, but some of the ideas they had on this front include allowing the audience to help choose the events that would happen around the map. Events are randomly assigned from a pool, traditionally.
When it comes to monetization, Crucible will include the seasonal battle pass model that has become popular in recent years. The paid version of the battle pass will cost you about $9.50 per season and can be bought using credits, Crucible’s currency, with a free version being offered as well. The free version will net you considerably fewer rewards but for no cost to you. Alongside the pass, players can spend their credits on specific cosmetic items, no loot boxes in sight, with the only stipulation being that the store’s stock will change with different things being featured each day. Relentless has also promised that all new hunters and game modes will be free for all players, no buy-in necessary.
Crucible is releasing missing a few features that I believe will hamper it, especially in the competitive scene, making it almost feel more like an early access release than a full release. The most significant omission is the lack of a Ranked or Casual mode for its game types. In-game voice chat or spectate modes are also missing in this retail release, so players will have to rely on outside programs to communicate vocally with their teammates. For a game with such a competitive and viewer-focused design mentality, the fact that these borderline mandatory features of the genre are to be MIA at launch is puzzling, particularly when you consider just how crowded the field has become.
There were other odds-and-ends that I encountered during my play session that will hopefully be addressed in future updates. One oddity was had to do with the practice mode. While this does give players different areas to test out the various Hunters, if you want to try out a different character, you will need to exit out of the practice mode entirely, change your character, and start up the practice again. A more obtrusive issue was how it appears Crucible currently handles a player’s disconnect when a match is found. A few times during the demo, after players encountered problems with matchmaking, it would kick all players currently matched back to the main menu, having to re-queue up for a match. I hope that this issue will be fixed sooner rather than later, as I could see this becoming a problem and used as an implement by trolls.
Crucible has its work cut out for it if it hopes to excite the competitive Twitch community. The game does have a lot going for it that will help it in this fight, being a fun experience that offers an exciting mix of elements from the MOBA and hero-shooter genres. Since it is a free to play title, it’s an easy sell to your friends to give a try, so long as they have a PC. Encounters in matches are fast-paced and can offer moments of tense excitement and rewards mastery of a hunters skills and playstyles, which will encourage diving into the various hunters. When it comes to the Hunters, the different feel of each means there is a good chance that you will find one that will fit your style.
That being said, Crucible finds itself hamstrung somewhat out of the gate. Without the label of “Early Access” attached, the lacking of ranked matchmaking will be a huge red mark on a title that wants to get into the competitive landscape. It will be challenging to build a competitive community when there isn’t yet a competitive ladder to entice people to refine their tactics or master characters. In terms of content, Crucible is on the leaner side of offerings, launching with only three game modes and ten hunters, another area that could have been made less of an issue had this been an Early Access release instead of the official launch. In comparison, competitors in beta are offering the same number of characters, and Blizzard’s monolithic hero-shooter launched with more than double the choices of characters and more game modes. We know that more modes and hunters are being worked on, so hopefully, these additional offerings will arrive soon after launch.
My time hunting down enemies and capturing Hive Hearts was memorable, and I look forward to jumping in tomorrow for more matches. I miss my boy, Drakoul, and I’m looking forward to getting better with him while trying out other hunters too.
Crucible launches tomorrow, May 20, 2020, exclusively on PC. You can try it out yourself over on Steam.